Former Ryanair and Titan flight attendant Fiona Mallinson, who talked to MailOnline Travel over Zoom about her life in the skies
The cabin crew life is undoubtedly a glamorous one – but it has decidedly non-glamorous aspects. Such as dealing with wayward human waste.
MailOnline Travel caught up on Zoom with two former flight attendants – for British Airways and Ryanair – and a current Virgin Atlantic cabin crew member who have got together to launch a travel company called Doors2Manual.
But before finding more out about that, we couldn’t resist asking them to lift the lid on what life at 38,000ft is really like… and it turns out that a strong stomach is required.
When asked if the cabin crew life is as glamorous as the public perceives it to be, the answer was yes, but not consistently.
Former long-haul BA flight attendant Elaine Graham, from Belfast, said: ‘No one can deny that travelling the world and getting paid for it is glamorous, and I had so much fun, but actually on board the aircraft – that’s not glamorous.
‘It’s hard work and we’ve all got our poo stories… ‘
Sorry, poo stories?
Former Ryanair and Titan flight attendant Fiona Mallinson said: ‘Yes, there’s always body fluids going on somewhere.’
Laura Reynolds, who’s on maternity leave with Virgin Atlantic, elaborated: ‘Yes, we’ve all got a poo story. Finding poo in places that you possibly shouldn’t find it. For example, outside a toilet, as opposed to inside a toilet, is always one.’
‘Or on top of a toilet,’ said Fiona.
Elaine continued: ‘I once found a poo outside a toilet that I thought was a joke poo. Because it looked like the perfect little joke shop poo.’
The bodily discharge stories don’t stop there.
Former long-haul BA flight attendant Elaine Graham, from Belfast, said: ‘No one can deny that travelling the world and getting paid for it is glamorous’
Laura Reynolds (left), who’s on maternity leave with Virgin Atlantic, and former BA flight attendant Elaine Graham (right), told MailOnline Travel stories of onboard wayward poo
Laura, who lives in Stratford-upon-Avon, said: ‘Quite often we get given soiled nappies, not in a bag, that’s another one that happens quite often – and usually when you’re doing a meal service, which is nice.’
‘And you say “thank you” and smile,’ said Elaine.
It doesn’t matter which airline you fly on, apparently, human waste problems for cabin crew ‘come as standard’, said Elaine.
Receiving abuse from passengers is another reality check.
Fiona, who is based at Stansted, said that she was drawn to being cabin crew for Ryanair from seeing how glamorous the airline’s flight attendants were.
She said: ‘I worked on check in for them for a little while and I saw going on to be cabin crew for them as the natural progression. Because they’d walk through the airport and they’d all look really glamorous with their hair done, because Ryanair grooming standards are very strict.
‘And I thought, that’s where I want to be. But the realism of it is on the other end of the scale to the perception of the glamour.
Fiona said that she was drawn to being cabin crew for Ryanair from seeing how glamorous the airline’s flight attendants were. She added that once she became crew she sometimes hid in the toilet to get away from the stress in the cabin
‘The uniform is beautiful, the guys and girls look wonderful and do their job fantastically well, but to say it’s hard work is the understatement of the century.
Every single day, you have abuse. And when you’re stuck in a small tin can flying through the air, it’s not fun. There’s nowhere to get away
‘I think there’s a bit of a perception as well, that if you’re paying so little for a flight, then you can treat the staff like rubbish.
‘Every single day, you have abuse. And when you’re stuck in a small tin can flying through the air, it’s not fun. There’s nowhere to get away.
‘I was known to lock myself in the toilet a couple of times, just so that I could get away.’
What sort of abuse are we talking about here?
Fiona explained: ‘Oh, verbal abuse, I was never physically abused. People would say they hoped my family would come into danger and things like that.
‘But this isn’t just on low-cost airlines. It can happen anywhere.’
Laura concurred, adding: ‘You get the odd occasion. Late flights used to always bring them in, delayed flights, wrong meals on board.
Readers who are nervous flyers will be pleased to hear that the crew members had virtually no emergency landing stories
‘But sometimes you just have to think that these people have been travelling for hours prior to getting on with us, so sometimes you just have to take a bit of a breath and then think, you know, look at it from their point of view. Other times they just weren’t very nice people and you would say something with a smile, because at the end of the day, they’re paying passengers.’
Readers who are nervous flyers will be pleased to hear that the crew members had virtually no emergency landing stories.
Elaine flew with BA for 24 years and said that most of the emergency situations she dealt with were of a medical nature.
Their advice for anyone on board who is a nervous flyer was to make sure they told the cabin crew.
Laura said: ‘Spend time chatting to us as crew, because we will always put you at ease. Let one of us know when you get on board and sit and have a chat with us. We’re the easiest people to talk to. We’ll grab you a cup of tea… you’ll probably end up being one of the family by time you get off because you’ve chatted to us so much.
If you want an upgrade, be prepared to pay for it. If the plane is oversold at the back and there is space in business or first, they will do upgrades – and a lot of the time it’s a good deal. But you’re unlikely to get it for free
‘We fly every day, so we’re used to it. Those little things that you might hear and make you panic are probably absolutely nothing.’
Elaine: ‘I would agree. A friend asked me a few years ago, “What are those dings when you’re turning onto the runway?” I said, “It’s to let the cabin crew know that if they’re not already in their seat they need to sit down right now.” And he said: “Oh, I always thought it meant something was wrong.”
‘So yeah, Laura’s right. Let the crew know and they’ll keep an eye out for you. They might not be able to speak to you at the time that the noise happens, but they’ll give you a nod, so you know that it’s just normal.’
Fiona added: ‘I just used to say, “Look, I’ve got a family at home, if I didn’t think it was safe, there’s no way I’d be here.’
So we know the crew can help with nerves – but what about upgrades? When you’re on the aircraft, is there a legitimate way of getting bumped up?
Apparently not on BA or Virgin – and Fiona shakes her head, too.
She said: ‘Those days have passed. The power has been taken away from us completely now.’
Elaine said: ‘If you want an upgrade, be prepared to pay for it. If the plane is oversold at the back and there is space in business or first, they will do upgrades – and a lot of the time it’s a good deal. But you’re unlikely to get it for free.’
Laura revealed that some cheeky flyers upgrade themselves – by sneaking into a premium cabin
Fiona added: ‘Dress appropriately as well. You’ve got to look like you belong if you want a good deal. You can’t turn up in ripped shorts and a singlet. You’re upping your chances hugely if you look presentable.’
Elaine pointed out that ground staff will try and upgrade gold and silver cardholders first.
Laura revealed that some cheeky flyers upgrade themselves – by sneaking into a premium cabin.
She said: ‘You’ll do a night flight and you’ll have say 15 people in upper class in bed, and then you’ll get up for breakfast and you’re like “whoa, we’ve got 17 now”.
‘So two have managed to get in and sleep all night with no one noticing. You have to ask them to kindly return to their seat.’
Elaine said: ‘That’s happened to all of us. I even had someone who didn’t wait for the middle of the night and just plonked themselves up there and hoped no one would notice.’
Doors2Manual, billed as ‘the newest and most unique travel company in the UK’
Fiona, meanwhile, revealed that even Ryanair passengers would try and get an upgrade, despite the airline operating economy-only flights.
She said: ‘My response was, “But it’s all first class!”‘
Elaine, Fiona and Laura – along with former Virgin Atlantic crew member Janna Beech – all met through a Facebook page called ‘Not Just Crew’, which was set up post-pandemic.
They set up Doors2Manual, billed as ‘the newest and most unique travel company in the UK’, as a result of them bonding on the forum.
The firm offers a huge number of holidays as it’s affiliated with Hays Travel, the UK’s biggest travel retailer, with all bookings Abta/Atol protected.
What the crew do that’s distinctive, is download their insider knowledge to their customers, making themselves available to chat by phone, video call or email.
Laura said: ‘We can recommend places to go to, with the knowledge that we’ve been there. And when you get there, we’ve been to restaurants and events that probably aren’t even written about on Tripadvisor. Things that someone in a travel agency couldn’t tell you about.
‘There are these quirky things that we know about that we can send people to once they’ve got to that destination as well.’
Fiona added: ‘And not always tourists hotspots. We’ve been to places that aren’t top of everybody’s list but maybe should be.’
Laura pointed out that if one of them isn’t too sure about a destination, they’ll ask one of the other crew.
And they can carry on giving them advice once they’ve booked their holiday as well.
Fiona added: ‘We’ve experienced the good, the bad and the ugly in most of the places that we’ve been to, and we can advise on all of them.’
What’s more, as Elaine stressed, they’re available outside office hours.
She said: ‘Having worked shifts and having been away from home, we’re not nine-to-five girls, we’re there whenever it suits our customers, and if that’s evening time or weekends, then that’s when we’ll do it.’
Have any customers asked if they can get them a free upgrade?
‘Not yet, but that will no doubt come,’ they chimed.
Visit doors2manual.com for more information.